Do Kobe and Company Need Viagra To Avoid Going Soft?

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Do Kobe and Company Need Viagra To Avoid Going Soft?

In the process of being humiliated in last year's Finals against the Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers were commonly criticized for being too soft on the defensive end.

Indeed, it seemed at times as if Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were vying with one another for the all-time record of fewest personal fouls committed in a Finals series. 

Every time a Celtics player drove the lane, the Lakers' bigs would kindly step aside to allow an unhindered path to the basket. This practice enabled the Celtics to set two new records for the Finals: their come-from-24-points-behind win in Los Angeles in Game Four and their series-clinching 39-point victory in Game Six.

Full credit goes to Phil Jackson and his Lakers team, however.  They have learned the hard lessons from such an embarrassing show.  All the talk out of Lakerland over the past few months has centered on the well-known mantra of successful teams: "Defense wins championships."

In fact, the Lakers started the season by not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk.  Over the first couple weeks of the season, the Lakers led the league in the one statistical category that perhaps most accurately reflects the effectiveness of a team's defensive efforts: opposition field goal percentage. 

Having Andrew Bynum back in the lineup has certainly helped in this regard, especially with his shot-blocking and shot-altering prowess.  In watching last night's game against the Mavericks, though, it's clear that the Lakers still have some work to do.

As a team, the Lakers were VERY slow to close out on three-point shot attempts.  With so many wide-open looks, I'm surprised that the Mavericks shot ONLY 44.8 percent from beyond the arc. 

The Lakers did tighten things up somewhat in the second half, but they still allowed Dallas to shoot more than 51 percent from the field for the entire game.  When you consider that the Lakers team committed just eight (yes, only eight!) fouls for the entire game, one word starts springing to mind when discussing their defensive efforts: Soft.

If last night's game was a rare occurrence, then we could write this off as an anomaly.  After all, the Lakers still won the game.  If we look at recent trends, however, then a worrying pattern emerges. 

Over their past 10 games, the Lakers (9-1 during that stretch) have allowed their opponents to shoot nearly 45 percent from the field, while they have shot around 47 percent from the field themselves.  That narrow differential is about average for teams above .500 in the league. 

For comparative purposes, let's look at the figures for the two teams with the best records in the East.  The Celtics, with a 15-2 record (also 9-1 over their last ten), have knocked down more than 48% of their shots over their past ten games while allowing their opponents to make just over 42% of theirs, yielding a 6% differential. 

The Cavaliers, who have a 13-3 record (also 9-1 over their past ten games), have made nearly 50% of their shots while restricting their opponents to making a shade over 42% of theirs.  Their nearly 8% differential is the best in the league over that ten games stretch and underscores how well Cleveland has been playing defense.

Sure, Los Angeles is still winning games, but how long can that continue if their defensive efforts slide even further?  It's hardly surprising that their only loss of the season (at home, nonetheless) was against one of the physical powerhouses from the East: the Pistons.  How will this Lakers unit handle the even more physical play from Cleveland and Boston?

Unless Phil can stiffen up his teams' rapidly softening defense, then the Lakers may soon find themselves limping their way to an early playoff exit at season's end.

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